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Contributor Jamie Ross shares his favourite things to do in Old Quebec City… for a luxuriously good time!
Québec City is the oldest European settlement in North America, founded by French explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1608. The name ‘Québec’ comes from the Algonquin word Kébec, meaning “where the river narrows.”
Dating back to 1608, Quebec City dazzles with its many charms. Narrow cobblestone streets stuffed with charming vendors, galleries, sidewalk cafés, picturesque churches, historic inns, and wonderful restaurants have all helped Quebec City earn the moniker in North America as “Paris without the jetlag.”
Add beautiful architecture, heritage landmarks, picturesque view of the St Lawrence River, and colourful vibrant squares full of musicians and artists, and you might end up wondering why anyone would bother travelling the extra distance to Europe? So why not stick closer to home.
Old Quebec, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is at the heart of the city’s appeal, an exceptional example of a fortified colonial town, the historic neighbourhood is bordered by walls dating back to the 17th Century. The city is just the right size to be cosmopolitan, while small enough to maintain a friendly, small-town feel. A beautiful stony arch forms the entrance through the fortifications into this historical place, and its narrow roadways invite exploration.
To help you make the most out of your time in North America’s only walled city, be sure to read through our list of the top (luxury) things to do in Old Quebec City.
The Top (Luxury) Things to do in Old Quebec City
Stay and Play in Old Quebec City
While it is one thing to visit this historic site, it is even grander to be able to stay within these historical walls as a guest. Holding sway above the city is the regal 128-year-old Fairmont Le Château, the most photographed hotel in the world, and one of the top places to stay in Quebec City.
Certainly, its myriad of towers and turrets has it looking like something plucked from a fairy tale. The Château Frontenac offers luxury suites, a first-rare spa a health club, and an indoor swimming pool with outside lounge area plus four restaurants.
The 1608 Wine and Cheese Bar is the place to be at sunset for expansive views of the river. A Funicular, (outdoor lift), whisks people up the steep grade to the grand hotel, or you can stay fit by trekking up the many stairs.
The charming Auberge Saint-Antoine is another great place to stay. Located in the heart of Québec City’s Old Port, it boasts spectacular views of the St Lawrence from many rooms. Auberge Saint-Antoine is half contemporary boutique hotel and half intriguing museum. Renowned for its warm and Quebecois hospitality, the family-owned Auberge Saint-Antoine was built on a major archaeological site.
Throughout the hotel one can discover hundreds of artefacts displays from the French and British colonial regimes, all unearthed during several years of archaeological excavation.
Enjoy Quebec City’s World-class Dining
Quebec City restaurants are among the best in Canada and should certainly be placed near the top of your ‘must-do’ lists. To help you, here are a few of our favourite:
- Chez Muffy, the Auberge Saint-Antoine’s four-diamond restaurant, is a family style farm-to-fork dining experience with a menu featuring local innovative cuisine, Quebec bistronomie, boasting savoury flavours and locally sourced ingredients from the hotel’s farm on Île d’Orléans as well as other Quebec farms and suppliers. The three-level, farmhouse-inspired setting is resplendent with stone walls, rustic wood beams, uneven planked floors, and a lofty arched ceiling. Check out their website at www.saint-antoine.com/chez-muffy.
- Bello Ristorante – The charming Bello Ristorante serves exquisite Italian cuisine presented in a unique Québécois style. If the weather is pleasant, the restaurant’s terrazza has a view of the sky over the city. The Il Fiammato coffees and desserts are flambéed before you at the table to round off the evening in style. Or you can head down the road for a Caribou liquor at La Buche.
- Ciel! Bistro-Bar – For a unique dining experience try the revolving Ciel! Bistro-Bar located on the top floor of Le Concorde Hotel and, with its magnificent panoramic views. Enjoy an excellent dinner, whilst looking down on the winding roads, stone buildings, colour, and activity that give this wonderful old city so much character.
- La Korrigane – For the beer lover, La Korrigane is a microbrewery where you can relax with a pint and enjoy some great pub food.
Explore Old Quebec City on Foot
You can easily spend a whole afternoon blissfully lost in the old city’s warren of lanes, meandering through evocative alleys, ducking into eclectic galleries, and enchanting shops, and wandering past mouth-watering bistros, brasseries and boulangeries. History is everywhere, from endless statues and plaques to the great museums and sites like Battlefields Park and the Citadel.
You will be walking in the footsteps of Samuel de Champlain as you enter Place Royale, the square in which he founded this settlement. Here is Champlain’s fort, trading post and home, and also the oldest stone church in North America, Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, which was built in 1688.
While musicians and street artists entertain, tourists jostle to get a photo of the Fresque des Quebecois, a wonderful mural depicting the story of Quebec, with life-like paintings of historic figures, and Quebec’s famous writers and artists.
Just outside the walled battlements of the old city is the magnificent Parliament Building, inspired by the Louvre Palace in Paris. On its walls are 26 bronze statues honouring Quebec’s historical figures. Horse drawn carriages pick up passengers at the Fountaine de Tourny for a tour of the old city.
Bike to Chute-Montmorency
Rent a bike from www.cycloservices.net to navigate the paved cycle paths that lead out of the city to the Parc de la Chute-Montmorency. Once you arrive at the park, you can take a cable car up the mountain to take in the awe-inspiring views of Montmorency Falls.
If you are feeling adventurous, try the Via Ferrata climbing route that scales the sheer wall beside the massive waterfall, and then zipline back over the crest of the chute.
Take a Drive
Another quick 30-minute drive from Quebec City will take you to the Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier. Here you can enjoy some easy white-water canoeing or rafting and do some hiking in search of moose.
Visit a Spa
Relax at the Siberia Station Spa located just on the outskirts of the city, with its hot and cold pools, waterfalls, steam baths and saunas, and some amazing riverside relaxation stations.
The Spa experience is based on the Scandinavian concept of thermotherapy, where you alternate between hot, cold, and resting treatments. The process is said to relax muscles, reduce stress, improve sleep, eliminate toxins, and strengthen the immune system.
Check out their website at www.siberiastationspa.com for further details.
If You Go
If a trip to explore the many fun things to do in Old Quebec City is in your future travel plans, be sure to check out these excellent resources for useful tips and tactics:
Contributor James Ross writes about destinations and travel adventures for various international publications. You can see more of his work at www.thejamesross.ca.